After a remarkable career, D.C. United's Jaime Moreno exits the stage
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 12:14 AM
To appreciate Jaime Moreno's work the past 15 years, ride the creaky elevator to the fourth floor of RFK Stadium. Step into the 1960s-era lobby and amble toward the three glass-doored cabinets. The 39 items on display - trophies, cups, plaques, flags, soccer balls - mark D.C. United's passage of time, and in essence, celebrate Moreno. You won't see his name or photo attached to anything, for these are team prizes. But when you take into account that United has existed for 15 seasons and Moreno, 36, has worn the club's colors for all but one of them, you come to understand the depth of his contribution to MLS's most decorated outfit.
"He has been a constant and provided us with a constant level of excellence," United President Kevin Payne said. "I don't know if we will ever see anyone like him again in our league."
Saturday night, on the final gathering of a forgettable season for both the player and the club, Moreno will end his marvelous run in Washington with a starting assignment on the front line against Toronto FC.
He wanted to stay another year, convinced that his touch and savvy would endure, but with Moreno's impact waning and United (6-19-4) bracing for offseason change, the club decided this summer that it would move on without him.
"I've been pretty lucky to be here for that long," said Moreno, who is mulling a job offer from United but is also considering extending his career in his native Bolivia. "All the work I put into this league and this organization, it always made me believe that I was here for a reason."
Moreno lasted because of his skill and endurance. He never won the MVP trophy and led the league in scoring just once (1997). But he had 10 goals or more seven times and nine twice, accumulated at least 10 assists five times and is the only player in MLS history with 100 goals and 100 assists. In 2007, he set the league record for career regular season goals, only to see Jeff Cunningham of FC Dallas equal it this year (132).
Moreno's playing manner mirrored his personality: consistent and understated but with devilish features.
On the field, Moreno offered cheeky chip shots over rooted goalkeepers and blinding footwork to dodge sprawling defenders. In the locker room and on road trips, he belied his demeanor by serving as team prankster. "If anyone is missing anything," former teammate and current United assistant Mark Simpson said, "you go to Jaime first."
His glossy statistics and honors - eight all-star selections, five Best XI all-league squads - never seemed to matter to him.
"Jaime is not a guy who is out and about, screaming his own name," said United interim coach Ben Olsen, Moreno's teammate for 10 years. "Jaime was the guy behind the scenes, and all he did was show up and produce magic and produce championships and put on great shows."
Moreno is from Santa Cruz in the Bolivian lowlands. His father, Gilberto, worked for the electric company. His mother, Aura, was mayor of La Guardia, a nearby town, and a science teacher. Jaime was a product of the famed Tahuichi Soccer Academy.
At age 22, after two uneventful years with English club Middlesbrough, he arrived in Washington for the last 3 Â½ months of MLS's maiden season. Then-coach Bruce Arena would tease Moreno that United's interest in him "saved me from becoming a chicken farmer in Bolivia." They remain close friends.